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One teacher’s journey

At the start of each lesson, Northeastern alumnus James Eggers, an instructor in the Teach for America program, scrawls an inspirational quotation on the whiteboard in his classroom at the Freire Charter School in Philadelphia, where he oversees the academic development of more than two dozen ninth graders.

On a recent Monday in May, Eggers quoted Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Liberia’s president and Africa’s first female head of state: “If your dreams do not scare you,” he wrote in block letters, “they are not big enough.”

Eggers says he chose this particular nugget of wisdom to motivate his students, many of whom cope with learning disabilities, but the saying could just as easily apply to his lifelong dream of working for the U.S. Secret Service.

“My goal is to work for the military or in international business,” says Eggers, SSH’12, who is among a group of young alumni who founded Northeastern’s MMXI Undergraduate Scholarship. “I know that I’m not done serving.”

The next stop on his humanitarian journey is some 4,500 miles from his Philadelphia classroom, but the work will require the same dedication, ingenuity, and patience with which he inculcates his young pupils. In April, Eggers was accepted into the Fulbright English Teaching Assistant program, which is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. Starting next spring, he will spend nine months in a college classroom in Brazil, where he will strengthen students’ English language skills while providing insights on American culture.

His passion for teaching took shape at Northeastern, he says, where his professors inspired him to reach his full potential. “They taught me I was capable of doing more than I ever realized and that I was selling myself short,” says Eggers, an international affairs major who graduated from the University of Pennsylvania’s master of science in education program this past weekend. “If I got involved with helping kids, I knew that I could provide the same inspiration.”

At Freire, he adheres to a “no nonsense” approach to teaching, taking care to remind his students of the malleability of intelligence. “The brain is a muscle that grows more powerful when you train it,” he tells them. “Failure to exercise your brain is a failure to reach your full potential, and that is unacceptable.”

Eggers repeated this mantra on each of his co-ops at Northeastern, which taught him something new about himself, his interests, and his dreams.

In 2010, he worked as a special assistant at the Portuguese Consulate in Boston. There, he co-authored a comparative study of the Lusophone-Afro Brazilian culture and its influence on the Americas while fostering relationships between the consulate and a score of New England schools.

“Working at the consulate gave me first-hand experience of what it would be like to be a diplomat and introduced me to the Portuguese language,” says Eggers, who later honed his second language skills on a Dialogue of Civilizations program to Portugal.

As an intern in the counterfeit money division of the city’s branch of the U.S. Secret Service, he experienced the thrill of serving his country—and had the opportunity to meet President Barack Obama. “I got to live out my dream of working with the government,” Eggers says. “It gave me an awesome opportunity to see inside an organization that not many people know about.”

Meanwhile, he kept his sights set on giving back to kids in need. In 2011, Eggers began volunteering with Foster Skills, a non­profit founded by Northeastern alumnus Marquis Cabrera to help sup­port local foster children. Today, he works remotely, shaping a workforce development program in which the nonprofit partners with big business in Boston.

Whether at Foster Skills or Freire, Eggers loves the challenge of working with youth. “It’s a huge task to shape the lives of students who this country has all but given up on, whether through lack of funding or lack of opportunities,” he says. “I think I’m doing a good job of getting students to invest in themselves.”